Name: Joseph J. Vezzoso Jr.
Title: Vice President of Sales
Organization: French Lick Resort
Location: French Lick, Indiana
Born: Evansville, Indiana
Education: University of Southern Indiana
Career History: Various hotel sales and operations positions since 1985
Family: Wife, Melody, and one daughter
Hobbies: Family activities and travel
From Construction to Hotel Management
Joe Vezzoso grew up in construction — his father owned a construction company — and he had no intention of getting into the hospitality industry at age 39. But in 1985, when a gentleman he knew was renovating and rehabbing the River House Hotel in Vezzoso’s hometown of Evansville, Indiana, he asked Vezzoso to stay on as general manager.
“I said, ‘Mr. Morris, I don’t know anything about running a hotel,’ and he said, ‘I don’t either; we’ll learn together.’ And the rest is history,” Vezzoso said.
That’s how, at nearly 40 years old and after years of working in construction, Vezzoso began a three-decade career in the hospitality and meetings industry that led him to his current role as vice president of sales for French Lick Resort in southern Indiana.
Vezzoso was born and raised in Evansville, where he also attended the University of Southern Indiana before joining his father’s commercial construction company, which built office complexes, schools and stadiums.
After managing the 91-room boutique River House Hotel, Vezzoso moved on to Indiana’s first casino, now Tropicana Evansville, where he served as director of sales and marketing.
From there, he went to work for the Executive Inns of Evansville and Owensboro, Kentucky, as vice president and general manager for both properties. And his time there included one of his proudest achievements.
The Evansville Executive Inn had closed, taking with it the community’s largest meeting venue. So when Vezzoso helped the new owner bring the 470-room hotel and 120,000-square-foot conference center back online, “it brought that group business back to Evansville and got the community back in the meetings business.”
The Owensboro Executive Inn was a bit different. It had never closed, but the new owner did revitalize the massive property, which had 600 guest rooms and about 180,000 square feet of meeting and convention space.
“Owensboro became a major convention hotel in the state of Kentucky,” he said.
Vezzoso is entering his 11th year with the French Lick Resort, which includes the historic French Lick Springs Hotel and West Baden Springs Hotel, as well as a casino, two spas, three 18-hole golf courses and a meeting and event center that recently underwent a $20 million expansion.
The French Lick hotel dates to 1845, and the West Baden hotel was built in 1902. The hotels, both designated historic landmarks, are about a mile apart, and the resort’s restored 1924 trolley runs between the properties.
“These two majestic, historic hotels are located in two very small communities,” Vezzoso said. French Lick has about 1,900 residents. West Baden Springs’ population is about 500. And the resort employs 1,700 people.
“Both of these communities now have embraced tourism, and they understand going forward that tourism is going to be their economic development tool in the area,” he said.
At the resort’s 105,000-square-foot event center, organizers will find the newest of the resort’s three ballrooms and its largest single space: the 22,600-square-foot Hoosier Ballroom, which can also be split into three smaller rooms. Two other ballrooms have 12,700 and 6,700 square feet, respectively, and planners can also use the divisible 2,000-square-foot Taggart Room or eight breakout rooms. Attached to the Event Center, the Exhibition Hall has 32,000 square feet and drive-in capability for expos and trade shows.
The resort is constantly investing in capital improvements to the tune of about $10 million a year, whether that’s updating guest rooms, adding amenities or expanding meeting space.
Crews are now converting a former indoor basketball gym to an exhibition center that will have about 28,000 usable square feet, a project that will be done by October. The resort also plans to add about 60 new guest rooms in a new building at the French Lick hotel. Construction could start this year and be complete in early 2019. Another project slated to begin in April will restore a building at West Baden Springs Hotel to use for weddings and upscale meetings, Vezzoso said.
While staying at the resort, meeting attendees can visit the stables for horseback rides, take carriage rides, test their aim at the clay ranges, play rounds of golf, play hands of blackjack, hike on five miles of trails, rent surrey bikes and participate in many other individual and group activities.
“We’re a true resort,” Vezzoso said.
Since the start of his second career nearly 33 years ago, Vezzoso has seen many changes in the meetings industry — the use of technology first and foremost — “but, at the end of the day, it’s still all about the relationships you build and having the trust with folks to do the job correctly.”
Meeting Tips from Joe Vezzoso
• Pay attention to the details.
• Build great working relationships with the operations staffs at facilities you use.
• Don’t leave anything to chance.